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William ALWYN (1905-1895)
Film Music Vol. 2

Music from: The Crimson Pirate; A Night to Remember (Main Title); Green Girdle; Take My Life – Aria*; The Card; Desert Victory; The Winslow Boy; In Search of the Castaways; and Libera me from Svengali.†
Susan Bullock * (soprano), Canzonetta*†
BBC Philharmonic conducted by Rumon Gamba
(recorded New Broadcasting House, Manchester, June 2001)
CHANDOS CHAN 9959[77:29]


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William Alwyn (1905-1985) began to write for films in 1936, first scoring documentaries, then graduating to features in 1941 with Penn of Pennsylvania. Amongst the sixty-nine pictures he scored are listed some of the most famous British films including those on this album and The Rake's Progress, The Way Ahead, Green For Danger, Odd Man Out, Carve Her Name With Pride and Swiss Family Robinson,

This second volume follows tardily on the highly successful first volume of Alwyn film music released by Chandos (CHAN 9243) in 1994. The 1994 album included Odd Man Out and The History of Mr Polly.

The long gap between the appearance of the two volumes is probably because Philip Lane has had painstakingly to reconstruct these scores from the original soundtracks because of the shortsightedness of the film studios which carelessly destroyed most of Alwyn’s scores.

This is an outstanding release in every way and I unhesitatingly awarded it my Film Music on the Web Choice of the Month. It has great appeal: a wide variety of styles and a wealth of melody.

The Crimson Pirate starred Burt Lancaster and Alwyn’s swashbuckling and romantic music perfectly captures his jaunty style. From In Search of the Castaways cheeky asides comment on an elegant ‘Ship’s Waltz’; and the vivacious ‘Rumba’ too, is spiced with merry nautical vulgarity. In contrast the Green Girdle music is gently tenderly pastoral (complete with clip-clopping horses) for the documentary encouraging Londoners, in wartime, to enjoy the Green Belt areas around the capital. Susan Bullock is passionately pleading in the dramatic aria that has the title of the film, Take My Life. Susan is equally intense, when she is joined by Canzonetta, in the powerful setting of Libera Me from Svengali in which hypnotist Svengali (Donald Wolfit) manipulates Trilby into being a great opera singer. The Main Title from A Night To Remember begins with a heroic aspiring fanfare that gives way to heavy melancholic music over a surging ostinato redolent of impending tragedy. Desert Victory has patriotic and heroic music worthy of Elgar and Walton.

From drama to comedy and Alec Guiness’s wonderfully cheery, chirpy portrayal of Arnold Bennett’s Denry Machin – The Card. The album includes a five movement suite memorable chiefly for its jaunty opening theme, first whistled then passed to the clarinets followed by humorous bassoon and jittery flute and clarinet figures as Denry rescues a gentleman’s wallet in an early sequence. The suite also includes a grand waltz and a sparkling polka for ‘The Countess’s Ball’ a romantic theme tenderly expressed on solo violin and a humorous but cleverly evocative ‘Coachride to Bursley’. The whole suite is a gem.

Back to drama and stiff- upper-lip English fortitude as expressed in music that is quite Elgarian with a dash of Eric Coates yet stamped with Alwyn’s individuality in the Prelude to Terrence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy – a cadet accused of stealing and expelled from the Royal Naval College. The three-movement suite has more introspective material in its central movement that depicts the Winslow’s at home – again the Elgarian influence is strong in this beautiful elegiac music. In the ‘Closing Scene’ the music speaks of triumphal vindication of the cadet’s innocence, his case is won by defence lawyer Sir Robert Morton (Robert Donat).

Finally there is a suite from State Secret, a spy story set in a Ruritanian country. It starred Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Jack Hawkins, smokey-voiced Glynis Johns and Herbert Lom. It opens with some pompous ceremonial material. In addition to some tense suspense music, there is another waltz for a ball scene, and some high-spirited circus-like material for ‘Theatre Music’ plus tender nostalgic music for the lovers’ remembrances of England. This is the best of the least memorable of these scores.

An excellent well-contrasted compilation of important British film music that needed to be rescued from oblivion and performed with panache and conviction.

Ian Lace

Visit the Alwyn web site


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